Joe Nuxhall wasn't always known as "The Ol' Lefthander." In fact, for a while, there was nothing ol' about him. He was very young -- so young that what he did 72 years ago today and where it led seems almost unfathomable in the current climate of big-time sports.
This week's Throwback Thursday remembers Nuxhall, whose Major League journey began Feb. 18, 1944, when the 15-year-old from Hamilton, Ohio, signed a contract with the Reds. It ended 63 years later when the pitcher turned beloved broadcaster passed away in 2007. In between, the city of Cincinnati had a love affair with a friend who became an icon.
Nuxhall was born July 30, 1928, in Hamilton, and he was discovered by the Reds while pitching in a semi-pro league on his father's team. He signed on Feb. 18, 1944, for a bonus of $500 and was given $175 a month for a salary.
The Reds weren't necessarily planning on rushing him to the big leagues, but players all around baseball were leaving to serve in World War II, so Cincinnati activated Nuxhall, who was 15 years, 10 months and 11 days old, for mopup relief against the Cardinals on June 10. He faced nine hitters and got two outs, giving up five runs while walking five in a game his team would lose, 18-0. The appearance made Nuxhall the youngest big leaguer ever, a record that might very well stand forever.
Nuxhall didn't play in the Majors again until 1952, when he was 23, but he stuck that time around. He'd go on to pitch 16 seasons, mostly for the Reds but also for the Kansas City A's and Los Angeles Angels. Nuxhall won 135 games, pitched to a 3.90 ERA and made two All-Star teams.
But "Nuxy" truly became a local legend in the broadcast booth and around the Cincinnati community. Nuxhall was a Reds radio staple from 1967-2004 and had a 31-year partnership with Marty Brennaman starting in 1974, and he parlayed his fame into myriad philanthropic efforts around town. Nuxhall's death in 2007 at the age of 79 was a crushing blow to the Reds and the city.
"I've known Joe my entire life," Ken Griffey Jr. said when Nuxhall passed away. "He did so many great things for so many people. You never heard anyone ever say a bad word about him. We're all going to miss him."
Nuxhall's name is bound to come up more and more these days as the stars of MLB seem to skew younger and younger. In the past five seasons, we've seen the emergence of Mike Trout (unanimous American League MVP Award winner in 2014), Bryce Harper (unanimous National League MVP Award winner in 2015), Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, Marlins ace Jose Fernandez and many others, long before their 25th birthdays.
Nuxhall reminds us of some of the other phenoms the game has witnessed. Here is a handful of the most memorable young stars throughout the decades:
LEGENDS ALL THE WAY
Bob Feller: The future Hall of Famer debuted at the age of 17 on July 19, 1936. A little more than a month later, he made his first start and went the distance, giving up one run and striking out 15. Twenty years later, Feller had amassed 266 wins and a career 3.25 ERA, all while missing almost four years while in the Navy.
Jimmie Foxx: He made his first appearance in The Show on May 1, 1925, at the age of 17. Foxx rapped out a pinch-hit single for the Philadelphia A's that day, the first of 2,646 hits that included 534 home runs and led to 1,922 RBIs. He won the NL Triple Crown in 1933, took home three MVP Awards and was elected to Cooperstown in 1951.
Mel Ott: He joined Foxx as a Hall of Famer on that great day in 1951, and the two had similar resumes, going back to debuts at the age of 17. Ott arrived on the big league scene on April 27, 1926, and ended up logging 22 seasons in the Majors, all with the New York Giants. He had a career .304 batting average, 511 homers, 1,860 RBIs and made 11 All-Star teams.
Ken Griffey Jr.: "The Kid" made his Major League bow on April 3, 1989, for the Mariners at the age of 19. He doubled off Dave Stewart in that at-bat and hit the first of his 630 big league homers a week later in his first plate appearance at the Kingdome. In January, Griffey was elected to the Hall of Fame with the highest percentage of the vote (99.3) in history.
Alex Rodriguez: A-Rod debuted for Seattle at 18 in 1994, earned more playing time in '95 and exploded onto the scene with his '96 season (.358/.414/.631, 36 homers, 123 RBIs, 54 doubles). Twenty years later, he has three MVP Awards, 687 homers and 2,055 RBIs.
SOLID IF NOT SPECTACULAR
Fernando Valenzuela: The 20-year-old left-hander from Mexico was the Dodgers' fill-in starter on Opening Day in 1981 and threw a five-hit shutout. He then went on a ridiculous run of three straight shutouts, a one-run win and another shutout, sparking "Fernandomania" in Los Angeles. Valenzuela carried his screwball through 17 Major League seasons, although he never recaptured the glory of his rookie year.
Dwight Gooden: He made it to the Mets on April 7, 1984, at the age of 19, quickly earning the nickname "Dr. K." Gooden was unstoppable in 1985, going 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA to win the NL Cy Young Award. Drug problems contributed to him not keeping up that dominance, but he did go on to pitch 16 seasons in the Majors, making four All-Star teams, winning three World Series rings and throwing a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1996.
Andruw Jones: The kid from Curacao made big league history by homering twice for the Braves in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series, becoming the first 19-year-old to accomplish that feat. Jones would go on to a fine 17-year big league career in which he hit 434 homers, drove in 1,289 runs and won 10 Gold Gloves in center field.
Francisco Rodriguez: The man they call "K-Rod" didn't appear in a big league game until mid-September 2002 at the age of 20, while his Angels were deep in a pennant race. By the time the postseason rolled around, Rodriguez was their indispensable setup man and future closer. He won five games that October, became the Angels' full-time closer a few years later, set the single-season saves record with 62 in 2008 and will enter his 15th season in 2016 as the closer for the Detroit Tigers.
BURNED FAST AND BRIGHT
David Clyde: He was barely 18 years old when he made his debut for the Rangers on June 27, 1973, right after being picked No. 1 in that year's Draft. The lefty struck out eight while giving up one hit and walking seven in five innings that day and had occasional moments of brilliance throughout the rest of that season. It didn't last long, though. Clyde was mediocre for another four seasons and out of the big leagues by 1980.
Mark Fidrych: "The Bird" first appeared in a Major League game on April 20, 1976, and last appeared on Oct. 1, 1980. Fidrych is most known for that '76 campaign, when he went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. He was an All-Star again the following year but was plagued by injuries that robbed a promising career.
Mark Prior: He was another brilliant talent done in by arm injuries. The No. 2 pick of the 2001 Draft arrived with the Cubs in 2002 at 21 and struck out 147 batters in 116 2/3 innings. In 2003, Prior went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 211 1/3 innings. He ended up pitching parts of three more seasons but was done in by shoulder problems.
ON THEIR WAY UP
Felix Hernandez: He made his Mariners and Major League debut in 2005 at the age of 19 and has been the team's ace ever since. Hernandez enters 2016 with 143 career wins, a 3.11 ERA, an AL Cy Young Award in 2010, the 23rd perfect game in Major League history (Aug. 15, 2012, against Tampa Bay) and a nickname fit for royalty: King Felix.
Mike Trout: He came up with the Angels in 2011 at the age of 19 but stuck the next year, showing off a rare combination of power, speed and defense. Trout has finished first or second in the AL MVP Award voting in each of the past four years, winning it unanimously in 2014, and clubbed a career-high 41 homers last year.
Bryce Harper: The only thing that's slowed him down since his big league debut for the Nationals at the age of 19 in 2012 has been injuries. In 2015, at 22, Harper was finally healthy and seized that NL MVP Award by being among the big league leaders in batting average (.330), OPS (1.109), home runs (42) and runs scored (118) while playing improved defense in the outfield.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.